It’s Time to Rip Off the Omnichannel Band-Aid and Rethink Retail
Let’s face it: omnichannel was a cool buzzword 10 years ago. With the acceleration of disruption and change, being “omnichannel” isn’t going to bridge the gap between tomorrow’s leaders and laggards.
Nordstrom is a notable example of a retailer with a forward-thinking approach. I worked there in 2008, so I can attest that Nordstrom was blazing the omnichannel trail a decade ago. Being able to view inventory across the store network and access product via e-commerce distribution centers enabled me to sell more at the physical point of sale and not let guests leave empty-handed.
Fast-forward to 2018, and omnichannel should be table stakes. In today’s environment, retailers must rethink retail by focusing on what makes a lasting impact with customers — providing a surprising, frictionless experience both online and offline. But where retailers can really bring their A-game and leverage their most powerful asset is within the physical retail space.
Complacency in the Physical Store Environment is a Killer
No, retail isn’t dead. However, the truth is that most in-store experiences are underwhelming. We’re at a point where physical and digital worlds are aggressively blurring. Still, instead of bolting on some cool tech and calling it a day, retailers must take a long-view approach to re-engineering the in-store experience across the entire customer journey. They must ask, “Where does this type of tech innovation make sense? Does it add value to my customers’ interactions with my brand?”
In today’s complex path to purchase, many conversions don’t take place in-store. Yet retailers’ No. 1 metric of physical success is sales per square foot. With the future of retail evolving, “the way we’ve always done things” won’t suffice. It’s time to overhaul traditional key performance indicator thinking and instead examine insights within brick-and-mortar to reframe how in-store success is measured.
Retailers that understand what’s at stake are focused on creating brand enthusiasts and converts based on the experience they’ve designed in-store.
But How Do You Get There?
While today's physical spaces leave much to be desired, they can be transformed through remarkable customer experience (CX). Here are tips for blending the physical and digital worlds to craft experiential retail environments:
1. Recognize CX as an issue.
The promise of omnichannel allowed retailers to overhaul legacy systems to integrate data across all sales channels and touchpoints. While this is important, it’s no longer enough. That’s why 55 percent of retailers consider optimizing CX a top priority.
Customers don’t care about your ability to access data from the cloud or your IT investments in a next-gen network architecture. You cannot minimize the strategic importance of tangible, live experiences taking place within your store that you control.
2. Think beyond just selling widgets to selling experiences.
The power of CX cannot be understated when it comes to creating a competitive advantage. The retail environment should deliver an exceptional, lasting customer experience. The future of the industry depends on whether today’s retailers can holistically approach the path to purchase. Additionally, while complexity can breed uncertainty, the physical location can be re-engineered to serve a different purpose — one that dramatically influences sales.
Nordstrom made headlines last year with the announcement of Nordstrom Local, a new store with no inventory. The smaller footprint location will focus on experiences and services, including personal styling, manicures, and tailoring. According to Nordstrom’s senior vice president of customer experience, “shopping today may not always mean going to a store and looking at a vast amount of inventory.” Retail should focus less on pushing merchandise and more on creating unique in-store experiences that drive engagement.
3. Consider which technologies make sense.
Retailers cannot deploy tech for tech’s sake; instead, evaluate how it can enhance the customer journey and create immersive experiences. And remember, in-store tech deployments aren’t just customer-facing; optimizing employee experience is important, too.
Consider Lowe’s: The hardware and home improvement company has aggressively launched technology tools to enhance both customer and employee experience. The new “View in Your Space” augmented reality app allows users to place “life-size” items from the Lowe’s spring catalog into their outdoor living spaces from the comfort of home. Within brick-and-mortar locations, shoppers can visit the Lowe’s Holoroom for a virtual reality experience, complete with haptic feedback to help customers learn DIY skills. And for employees, Lowe’s introduced a mobile app where photos can alert management to in-store issues that can be quickly resolved.
4. Create "Instagrammable" moments.
When thinking about reimagining the store of the future, retailers should consider all potential sensory touchpoints. To start, it should be Instagram-worthy — i.e., a space that inspires customer exploration. This is where store design elements, from fixtures to tech to lighting to even smell, come together to create a captivating environment.
By bringing the brand to life, retailers can create those Instagrammable moments with customers that catalyze engagement, deepen relationships, and bridge offline and online worlds with authentic user-generated content.
Gone are the days of omnichannel — or at least the days where it’s all that mattered in retail. Enter into a new era of reimagining your brick-and-mortar stores. Offering an immersive, unique experience for customers in-store is a throwback to the early days when shopping on a Saturday in town was a social event. It’s time to bring that back.
Susan McReynolds is the retail strategy manager for CenturyLink, where she works with customers, analysts and industry leaders to keep a finger on the pulse of the IT trends and challenges facing today’s omnichannel retailers.
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In the role of retail strategy manager for CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Susan McReynolds works with customers, analysts, and industry leaders to keep a pulse on the IT trends and challenges facing today’s omnichannel retailers. Susan provides thought leadership on topics related to cybersecurity, digital transformation and next-generation networking strategies to help retailers keep pace with change. Prior to joining CenturyLink, Susan helped guide national and global athletic brands in developing custom visual merchandising programs. She received both her MBA and undergraduate degrees from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) is the second largest U.S. communications provider to global enterprise customers. With customers in more than 60 countries and an intense focus on the customer experience, CenturyLink strives to be the world’s best networking company by solving customers’ increased demand for reliable and secure connections. The company also serves as its customers’ trusted partner, helping them manage increased network and IT complexity and providing managed network and cyber security solutions that help protect their business.